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Recipe: How to make chewy, crunchy, Brick Lane style beigels

PUBLISHED: 10:00 07 November 2020 | UPDATED: 10:14 07 November 2020

Make Charlotte's Brick Lane style beigels  Picture: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

Make Charlotte's Brick Lane style beigels Picture: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

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Forget supermarket bagels says our group food and drink editor...and make the ‘real thing’ at home.

While I can’t pinpoint for certain the first time I ever ate a beigel, they have been a constant in my world for as long as I can remember.

And, as far as I’m concerned, the original and the best can only be found at Brick Lane Beigel Bake in London’s East End.

Whenever we went to visit my Jewish grandparents in Whitechapel as I was growing up, there would inevitably be beigels involved. Florrie and Sam would have a few already on the dining table of their maisonette in a bristling brown paper bag. Great aunts and uncles, cousins and second cousins living on the same street would be in and out for a bite, slathering the chewy, doughy pillows with lox and cream cheese, maybe a smattering of chunkily cut raw onion too.

The best part of any trip to London, apart from seeing our grandparents, and playing Connect 4 on the floor of the living room, was a walk, via the park (I swear it had donkeys in it) over to Brick Lane, usually with the family dog, Bubbles, in tow.

Back then, far removed from what it is now. And a grand depart from our life in a rural Suffolk market town where the only exciting thing that might pass down the main street was a tractor.

The sights, sounds and smells were intoxicating. Where there are now art and vinyl shops, cereal cafes, and artisan street food stalls, was in the late 80s and 90s a festival of colour - the market lining either side of the street with exotic fruits which might as well have been aliens, toothsome, milky Indian sweets, clothes and bric-a-brac. The cacophony of sheep bleating in the field next to our house replaced by a hubbub of music, singing, bartering, shouting.

At the end of the street, gleaming with its ‘24 hour sign’, Brick Lane’s beigel shop didn’t (and still doesn’t) look anything special. But most good things are found in unexpected places.

The queue is a mish-mash. Orthodox Jews in traditional dress. Jewish grandmas. Families. Students. Tourists. Pub-goers seeking hangover fuel. But the wait is worth it.

Have your money ready, the ladies at the till are prickly (part of the place’s charm?) and want you in and out as quickly as possible. Always go for a filled beigel, crammed with thick, melting chunks of salty beef and sinus-clearing English mustard – maybe a pickle too. The texture and flavour does not compare to anything from a supermarket. It’s all about the chew. Leave with a dozen unfilled beigels too – they’re cheap as chips. And platzels –their holes filed with sweet fried onions.

This week’s recipe is as close as I’ve come to replicating the East End’s finest. Give them a go!

Best ever beigels

(makes 12)

Ingredients

370ml warm water

1 sachet dried yeast

5tbsps sugar

2tbsps honey or malt extract

1 medium egg, beaten

3tbsps vegetable oil

600g strong white bread flour

1.5tsps salt

Flour for kneading

To cook: 6tbsps honey or malt extract, large pan of water

To top: Seeds of your choice

Method

Combine the warm water, sugar, yeast and honey or malt extract in a large bowl and leave for five minutes to activate the yeast. Mix in the egg and vegetable oil.

Gradually add the flour and the salt and mix well to combine. Tip out onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes until smooth and elastic. It’s quite a moist dough so persevere and try not to add too much extra flour. If you have a free-standing mixer with a dough hook it will come in handy for this!

Place the dough in a large, greased bowl, cover and set in a warm place for 30 minutes. Don’t leave it much longer as we’re not after a light, fluffy dough, we want it chewy!

Heat the oven to 220C.

Once proved, punch the dough to knock out excess air, weigh, and split into 12 equal pieces. Some people roll the dough into ropes to form the shape but I simply press each piece into a circle of about 8-10cms, push my finger through the middle, and stretch it out so the hole is about 3cms wide (it will close up a bit as they cook).

Set a cooling rack over a cloth on the side.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil with the honey or malt extract and pop in 2-4 beigels depending on the pan size. Boil for 45 seconds each side and pop on the rack.

Once all the beigels have boiled, sprinkle with your chosen topping over and then either place them on a wooden chopping board (as I was taught by a Jewish baker) or pop on a lined baking sheet. They won’t expand any further so as long as they don’t touch they should all be able to go on the same tray.

Bake for 25 minutes, turning each one over halfway through cooking.

Remove them to the cooling rack again, allow to cool until you can handle them, and dig in. They freeze well, if you double wrap them. Or thinly slice leftovers and dry out in a medium oven to serve as crunchy snacks with your favourite dip.


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